Everything is going to be all right, according to Doris Lessing, who has witnessed catastrophes and the crumbling of ideologies and empires. At 86, Lessing continues to write with undiminished gusto. She has just completed a sequel to her 1999 novel Mara and Dann. Due to be released by Flamingo in June, it will be called The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog. 'My publisher hates the title because it's so long,' she says, with a laugh. Lessing's dark eyes are lively beneath eyebrows that have remained dark even though her drawn-back hair is now silver-grey. Sturdily built, she has the calm of a sage. Lessing is at the end of a three-day trip to Mantua and Rome after her London-Milan plane caught fire in flight. 'I adored writing Dann and Mara,' she says. 'I had such fun, I just had to do a sequel.' Dann and Mara is the story of an orphan girl and her brother surviving in an Irfik (Africa) of the future that is afflicted by the effects of massive climate change. 'The survival of a pair of orphan children is archetypal in many cultures,' Lessing says. 'In both novels, often I dreamt what I wrote the following day - frequently based on what happened between me and my younger brother when we were children.' But these novels are set in the future. 'Let's say, rather, in another time dimension. I wanted to write an adventure story, but if you write a contemporary adventure story you have to use fast cars, the internet, coded communications, and all that James Bond paraphernalia. I had to avoid that.' So, they're anti-science fiction, pre- or post-technological fantasies? 'They're fables in which the characters are forced to go back to basics to survive,' she says. 'To avoid Bond-style technology, I buried Europe under a thick layer of ice.' Europe is buried, whereas Irfik is wrecked by drastic climatic changes, by drought or too much water, with survivors from a nightmarish technological era. It's a daunting vision. 'It's a possible projection from what's already happening,' she says. 'I was in Zimbabwe during a severe drought and saw everything - animals and plants - die. The climate changes are already forcing Africans to flee from the interior to the coasts. 'But Dann and Mara find a way beyond this. They reflect the desire of Africans, particularly the women, for knowledge. These adventure stories represent a triumph of the human spirit.' In these novels, Lessing has returned imaginatively from London, where she lives, to the Africa where she grew up. Born in Persia (now Iran) of British parents who moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where they ran an unsuccessful maize farm, Lessing was a rebel who ended her formal education at 13 and left home two years later. After two marriages and three children, in 1949 she moved to London, where she made a career as a writer of fiction, essays, plays and autobiography. She has also written a libretto for a Philip Glass opera, The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four and Five. Her books stir controversy because they have an autobiographical basis, are outspoken, leftist and feminist. Among the titles that have made many propose her for the Nobel Prize are The Golden Notebook, Memoirs of a Survivor, In Pursuit of the English and Canopus in Argos: Archives. Among the many prizes she has won is a major Spanish award, the Prince of Asturias, for her defence of freedom and Third World causes. In 1995, to see her daughter and grandchildren, Lessing visited Zimbabwe for the first time since being declared, 39 years earlier, a prohibited alien for her opposition to the regime. The racist rule of the white minority led by Ian Smith seems to have been replaced by an even worse regime under Robert Mugabe. 'It looks hopeless,' she says. 'A Zimbabwean friend who has just returned there from London says it's like stepping off the end of the world. I find it very sad and tragic. When the white minority ruled at least everyone had enough to eat.' Lessing has seen many ideologies dissolve, from communism to feminism, and empires break up - the Soviet, the Nazi Reich (which was meant to last 1,000 years), the British Empire (she turned down an offer of becoming Dame of the British Empire on the grounds that there is no British Empire and that being a dame was a 'bit pantomimey'). 'There's comfort in all that,' she says. 'What seems permanent is transitory. Capitalism may become less rapacious, globalisation less reckless.' Which writers came out best in this passing parade? 'Those who see through the propaganda,' she says. 'Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for instance.' What of Germaine Greer's role in feminism? 'I've never agreed with Greer on feminism. But I admire her Shakespearean scholarship and enjoy her articles on plants and gardens.' Isn't it depressing that as fast as murderous ideologies and empires pass, others take their place? Doesn't it suggest the work of idealistic writers and those who work for a better world is in vain? 'It can be depressing,' Lessing says. 'I remember how distressed I was to see half a dozen people being led through a Rhodesian street handcuffed and ankle-chained simply because they had no pass. Tolstoy had protested against this kind of thing, but it was still going on. Literature already achieves a lot if it helps us understand the world. And, in fewer cases, it even improves it. People of good will do have partial successes. And you have to remember that these days outrages are brought to our attention which would've remained hidden in the past.' Having lived through the IRA terrorism in London, would Lessing still entitle a novel The Good Terrorist? 'Terrorists can be normal people when they're not being terrorists. Sometimes they live such boring or terrible lives that they resort to terrorism to given themselves an identity. If we help people live lives which are not desperate or deadly dull, there might be fewer terrorists.'